The first time I met the swami I was constipated. That banquet of red meat and Cairene heat had brought my middle to a complete standstill. Nothing was moving. Although I was excessively flexible, my packed guts prevented me from side twisting and inverting my triangle in asana class. It was only after I failed to reverse my triangle that I admitted to the swami—it’s been ten days since I’ve moved anything at all. He invited me back to his room where he had some ayurvedic medicine. There, he also had a Sanskrit English dictionary, several strands of mala beads, a few candles, a picture of his guru and an empty but made bed—where I was invited to take an acupressure massage. This is the scene in which I spread myself out on the bed of a man who is practicing brahmacharya. I have walked into the monk’s private quarters.
The swami was a small and very nimble man with long and lean muscles, a clean shaven head, and a gap between his two front teeth. He was handsome with intense eyes and a tight little body. He pushed his thumbs into my lower abdomen and invited me to ask anything I wished. And so I did. Now, I don’t remember my questions but only that with each I further submitted. Perhaps he will show me how to leave behind—to cast off—the history that contains me, strangles me, and haunts my sleep. We will begin with the muscles and ligaments and sweep out the memories lurking in the deep fibers. We will preface the beginning by irrigating the gut.
“Tonight you will say ‘The swami is trying to kill me,’ but I am not.”
I walked through the back alleys toward my motel in a daze. There my temporary roommates—who I’d met only a few days before—were sitting on the front balcony chatting away. The greeted me kindly and I rubbed my middle “Oh girls, I don’t know about this!”
Very soon I was on the toilet, breathing deeply—trying to thread my breath through the intestines and into my root. And then it broke. Ten days of red meat and what else evacuated my middle. “Is everything okay in there, hon?” asked Jenny in her Liverpool English. She lit a stick of incense and kept an ear out to watch that my moaning didn’t shift into an SOS. It came and it came and it came. Pot after pot I flushed out the sludge. My head hot with fever, my skin chilled, my entire body perspiring, I gave birth to a rotten bulk of my past and abandoned it.
“Hey,” I called out from the bathroom, where I was still bent in half on the toilet, “You should take a picture!” The girls burst into laughter, relieved I wasn’t going to turn into a cumbersome corpse they’d have to deal with on their vacation.
Later, in bed, the swami’s eyes had me transfixed. They were all I could see. When I closed my eyes, he was there. When I left them open, he was there. Just like that, emptied and filled I fell off to sleep between the clean crisp sheets dressed in a tank top and panties.
The next morning I moved slowly as I prepared for asana class. As I wrapped my black and red striped sarong around my waist and over my black leggings Jenny said, “I like your new look, hon!”
“You must have lost five kilos!” said Sara. It was bizarre but I felt light, elated, and acutely aware.
“Cheers girls!” I said as I left our room and headed out to class. The Arabian Sea was calm and there was a slight breeze. The smell of nagchampa and masala chai wafted from the beachfront cafes. I was eager to see the swami, it felt as if he was inside my body, outside my body, and present too in between. There are three fields of vision—inside one’s mind, outside one’s body, and the place of visions; no matter where I shifted my attention the swami was there. As I walked toward the class I experimented by first focusing my attention inside: Namaskar! He seemed to be saying. Each vision gave me the sensation of a sort of spiritual wink. As if the swami was tipping his imaginary hat at me. A sort of psychic peak-a-boo—heavy on the boo.
The asana class was held on the roof top of a hotel that overlooked the Arabian Sea. We started each morning at seven am. When I arrived only one of the two disciples from Latvia was there, Vidya. I greeted her and smiled. She nodded while trying to relax a grimace. She cooked for the swami, she cleaned his robes, and she followed him around the subcontinent. She never spoke, she leaned to the left while she meditated, and she wore her hair just a quarter inch past clean shaven. Vidya—was the name that swami had given her. Vidya: spiritual wisdom. I loved her and respected her and she just wanted me the hell out of her traveling ashram.
“Don’t kill the mosquito! The mosquito has karma!” insisted the swami. The mosquitoes and their karma were hovering like vultures. Vidya and Lakshmi (the other Latvian) surrounded the practice space with coils of incense intended to ward off the insects. We each took our space—an undercurrent of greed filled the air as the students competed for the spot closest to the teacher. We all settled into padmasana and finally, the swami sang, “Om sahana vavatu, sahana bhunaktu, sahravayem, karava vahey, tajus vanedamastu, ma vadvasavahey! Om shanti shanti shanti-ay! Hari ay om!”
His voice penetrated my body. It was rich, strong, and multidimensional. We moved into our asana practice and I left my thoughts alone.
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